SACRAMENTO — The path to your dream job doesn’t have to be a straight one. It’s OK if you divert into the wilderness because it may be the happiest place for you.

A panel of IT leaders offered their own versions of this narrative at the Interface conference here. The event focused on networking solutions, cloud data strategies and employment opportunities across various industries.

The collective message: the road to a leadership role is often a clumsy, disjointed path. It’s alright if you’re not sure where you’re going, as long as you bring passion and drive to your current situation.

That College Major You Sweated?

Your college major doesn't matter. 

Take Heather L. Pettit, the Chief Information Officer for California's Superior Court in Contra Costa County, as an example. She didn't start out in technology and originally planned to be a university professor. 

But by happenstance she came to love technology, spending time in multiple areas of IT and even helping with a company’s networking structure.

She used her experience of landing where she never expected — working in the court system — as an example of remaining open to career possibilities. She also urged conference attendees to take into consideration all of their life circumstances. After her son was born, she decided she didn’t want to spend Christmas troubleshooting IT problems for the casino network she then managed.

Make Mistakes

Rod Ehsani, senior director of internal audit at VSP Global, encouraged everyone to nurture dissatisfaction and feelings of being "uncomfortable" as a way to stay hungry for future opportunities. He said such an attitude helped him land jobs he wasn’t qualified to accept on paper, but successfully accomplished through passion and innovation.

Learning Opportunities

“Get used to being uncomfortable, and don't worry about goofing up. I goof up all the time and I let my staff know it's ok for them to,” he said. “We think that leaders are divinely ordained and have all the answers, but they don’t.”

Amanda Roberts, CEO of Stone Cobra and co-founder of My Swirl, said she spent several years at large corporations before deciding that it wasn’t the right fit for her. Her real passion was writing software, and she found a way to do that by helping launch two companies.

“I discovered that a big company is not really me,” she said. “I need much more of a meritocracy.”

The common thread was that anyone who is trying to advance should be open to any experiences. It could be a lateral move or what’s perceived as going backwards as long as the new role is fulfilling and addresses personal passions.

Most of the advice would have made Tony Robbins proud, but there were moments where the concept of life’s struggle emerged, as when Pettit said she had to cut back on travel after the birth of her son. 

And the panelists also urged everyone to focus less on job titles or circumstances, but to seek out ways to do great work, no matter where they are at the moment.